Franklin’s 2019 Kentucky Derby FAQ: Yes, It Really Is as Awesome as It Looks

Franklin’s 2019 Kentucky Derby FAQ: Yes, It Really Is as Awesome as It Looks article feature image

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kentucky Derby attendee

  • How much does the winning Kentucky Derby horse get paid? What's all the fuss about with these Mint Juleps? Which celebrities are known to attend annually? What's with all of the funny hats? How much will be wagered on the Derby?
  • Drew Franklin takes you through everything you need to know about the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is upon us and the Bluegrass State is buzzing with excitement for its biggest weekend of the year. The Derby — and all of the fun surrounding it — is like the Super Bowl around here, and the only time Kentucky has the attention of millions and millions of people around the world.

Louisville International Airport is already littered with private jets, parked for the weekend until their celebrity passengers are ready to leave. Hotels have been booked for many months, most at insane rates that should be considered criminal. The city’s best restaurants are maxed out with reservations at all hours of the day, while limo services roll into town from other cities in every direction.

For one long weekend around the first Saturday in May, Kentucky is the place to be.

For those who have never experienced it themselves, there is so much to learn about the history, the people and everything else that makes the Kentucky Derby special. I fancy myself as somewhat of an expert on Derby weekend having gone the last nine years, with an average of two hours of sleep each night I am there.

I have had several conversations with people from other parts of the world wanting to know more about the Kentucky Derby and what draws more than 100,000 people to Louisville to witness it. You too may be asking yourself the same questions I have already answered many times before, so why don’t you take a moment to read my attempt at explaining all the good things about the Kentucky Derby to someone who doesn’t get it.


What makes the Kentucky Derby different than any other horse race?

The Kentucky Derby is not only the longest running horse race in history, it is the longest running sporting event in the United States, dating back to 1875. It is also the first leg of the American Triple Crown and ranks first in attendance among all horse races every year.

How many people attend the Kentucky Derby?

The record is 158,070 spectators, set in 2017. Last year’s crowd fell a little shy of that mark, likely due to the horrible weather. Rain is in the forecast again this year, but it should still draw more than 150,000 people.

How many horses are in the race?

Up to 20 thoroughbred horses run for the roses, with some alternates on standby for late scratches. This year’s morning-line favorite, Omaha Beach, was scratched on Wednesday, so Bodexpress, the lone alternate in the field, will take his place.

How far do the horses have to run?

The Kentucky Derby’s race distance is 1.25 miles long on the dirt racetrack at Churchill Downs.

How long does that take?

The winning horse crosses the finish line at right around two minutes, which is why the Kentucky Derby is considered “The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports.”

I knew “The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports” were in Louisville, but I thought it was a Rick Pitino sex joke.

No, the Kentucky Derby is called “The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports” or sometimes “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.”

Rick Pitino was a regular at the Derby until he was ousted from Louisville two years ago.

What does the winner get for being the fastest in “The Fastest Two Minutes In Sports?”

This year’s payout will be in the neighborhood of $3 million to the winner, the highest it has ever been. Last year Justify took home $2 million.

What could a horse possibly do with $3 million?

The majority of the money goes to the horse’s owner, then a sizable chunk to its jockey. The IRS will get a big slice of the pie too.

The horse moves one step closer to the Triple Crown followed by a lifetime of frolicking with mares (bow chicka wow wow) in a five-star stable with five-star care. Retirement for a Derby winner is a great way to live life.

How much money is bet on the Kentucky Derby?

A record $149.9 million was wagered on the Derby race alone in 2018, while action across all Derby day races — yes, there are multiple races on Saturday — totaled $225.7 million. I believe even more will be on the line this year after the recent boom in sports betting.

That is a lot of money.

It sure is. You know what else is a lot of money? The revenue from the sale of Mint Juleps. Would you believe me if I told you one Mint Julep costs $11 and Churchill Downs served over 120,000 of them last year? Because it is true.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The hell is a Mint Julep?

The Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby. It is a mixture of Kentucky bourbon, simple syrup and a fresh mint leaf, served over crushed ice in a commerorative Kentucky Derby glass. You must get at least one if you are ever at the Kentucky Derby.

What if I don’t like bourbon or mint?

Then you probably won’t like it. Another signature drink is the Oaks Lily, a vodka-based cocktail mostly served on Kentucky Oaks Day. It is one ounce of vodka, one ounce of sour mix, three ounces of cranberry juice, a splash of triple sec and three fresh blackberries, also served over crushed ice in its own commemorative glass. Very refreshing.

Oaks Day? You mean there is more than one day?

Oh yes. In fact, Kentucky Oaks Day, the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, is the fourth-highest attended race in the United States. Its feature race is for 3-year-old fillies and nicknamed “Lillies For Fillies.”

Oaks-goers are encouraged to wear pink and Churchill Downs donates $1 from the sale of each Oaks Lily cocktail to the fight against breast cancer.

Well that’s cool. I didn’t realize the party started on Friday.

The party starts long before Friday. In recent years, the Thursday before Derby, called “Thurby,” has really taken off. 48,134 people attended Thurby last year.

Kentucky Derby Festival activities begin almost two weeks prior to the actual running of the Kentucky Derby.

What kind of celebrities go to these events?

Most of the big stars don’t arrive until Friday, just in time to party all night before doing the Derby all day Saturday. In my own personal experiences, I’ve found that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are regulars. They never miss a Derby. Brady brought Rob Gronkowski one year, but I don’t know if he will ever be back. He left it all on the field that weekend. What a party animal. Rodgers always has several of his Green Bay teammates with him.

Other notable celebrities from past years include Queen Elizabeth II, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicholson and Donald Trump.

What about that one guy I always see on TV with the white hair? Who is he?

I believe you mean Bob Baffert, the legendary trainer with five Kentucky Derby winners, including Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. He has three horses in the Derby this year so you will be seeing a lot of him on TV again.

2019 kentucky derby betting picks-power-ratings-odds-sleepers-longshots
Credit: Matt Stone, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Bob Baffert (right) celebrates with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes after Justify’s win at the Belmont Stakes.

His hair is magnificent. Speaking of which, what’s with all the funny hats?

Women have been wearing Derby hats since the very first Kentucky Derby in the late 1800s. The hats are considered a mix between Southern and European styles, and are believed to be good luck. Many people think the hats are more important than the actual racing. The hats are easily one of the Derby’s biggest traditions.

What are some other traditions?

Let’s see, there is the rose garland more than 400 red roses sewn on a green blanket and draped around the Derby winner. The singing of “My Old Kentucky” home before the race is another good one, especially for those of us from Kentucky.

My personal favorite is one you won’t catch on TV or anywhere in the grandstand. You have to immerse yourself in the infield to witness it firsthand. It is the port-a-potty run — drunk people running across the tops of the long rows of port-a-potties. It is popular in the wild underbelly of the Derby, in the infield, where shirts are optional and pretty much anything goes.

Drunk people race across port-a-potties???

Yes, while everyone beneath them chucks beer cans at their heads. It’s a shame it doesn’t get any TV coverage. I would rather bet on those races than the actual horse races!

I had no idea the Kentucky Derby got so wild.

The best thing about the Kentucky Derby is there is a little bit of something for everyone. Want to wear a Tom Ford suit and rub elbows with movie stars on Millionaires Row? It will cost you, but it can be done. Want to eat some of the best food in the world? Grab a plate. Want to take off all your clothes and Pete Rose slide through a mud pit or watch a fist fight between first cousins? You can do that too. It is all there, around one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

OK you sold me. I am going next year. I’ll even drink a Mint Julep.

You better get your hotel room now.